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Lonya "Lonya" (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
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Homecoming
Homecoming
by Prof Bernhard Schlink
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, 6 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Homecoming (Hardcover)
or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration."
Charles Dickens, "Martin Chuzzlewit"

Bernhard Schlink's "Homecoming" takes us to a place where the sense of home is as strong as the strongest conjuration. His protagonist, Peter Debauer, has an acute, but unstated, sense of what a home should be but this acuity seems driven by the fact that all the hallmarks of a home are missing in his life. Peter was born during the war and raised in Germany during the post-war (WWII) years. His mother is emotionally distant and self-involved. His father is presumed to have been killed during WWII. As a child we usually grow up (or at least I did) hearing stories about our parents and extended family groups. Those stories, from the good, to the bad, and to the down right embarrassing, acted for me as an anchor that helped tie me emotionally to my extended family. I don't expect that my experience is unique. But this is post-war Germany, a world in which Germany's post-war baby boomers are burdened with the silence of their mothers and fathers. Children do not ask "what did you do in the war, daddy?" and, if they do they don't get an answer. Schlink writes of a world in which the sins of the fathers, the guilt of the mothers, are still fresh and too raw to be discussed with the children. This lack of an anchor leaves Peter adrift and at sea in a very real sense. His life seems to be one in which he is carried along by the tides. He flits from relationship to relationship, and his career seems equally unstable. This is not to say that Peter doesn't have relationships or that he isn't smart enough or accomplished enough to make a decent living. But the sense that something is missing in Peter is very strong even as it remains unexpressed. "Homecoming" is the story of Peter Debauer's odyssey, his inchoate search for a homecoming.

I used the word odyssey because "The Odyssey"is the centerpiece of the book's form and structure. Peter's most enjoyable moments come when he is sent by train to Switzerland to spend the summers with his paternal grandparents. During those summers he reads bits and pieces of manuscripts submitted to his grandfather for publication in a series of books published under the title "Novels for Your Reading Pleasure and entertainment". Peter becomes obsessed with the story of a German solider trying to make his way back from a Soviet POW camp. The narrative of that story tracks that of The Odyssey. But the manuscript itself is incomplete and Peter begins a search for the rest of the story and the story's author that takes him on his own odyssey. He travels throughout Germany, Switzerland and the United Sates.

However, the manuscript's last pages are missing and, driven by the desire for resolution, Peter spends much of his adult life in a quest for both the author's identity and the novel's conclusion. Peter's search is interwoven in the story with the threads of his own life. Kept at arm's length by his mother, Peter keeps pressing for more information about his father. As Peter acquires more information about his father we see yet another Odyssey begin to emerge. As may be expected Peter's search for the author and for information about his father the reader and Peter discover connections that bring the threads even closer.

I was drawn to Homecoming but also found it to be a bit flawed, particularly in the latter portions of the book. However, those flaws (an ending that seemed a bit too pat for example and a climactic scene in a hotel that was pretty blatantly telegraphed to us in an earlier chapter) were outweighed by Schlink's prose and by a theme, a search for meaning by a generation when much of the past, a family-past that places our lives in context is withheld from us. Peter Debauer may not be the fully-formed adult we might prefer in our protagonists but that seems to be the point. The point is the journey and the angst and guilt that made the journey necessary. Home is a strong word and Bernhard Schlink's Homecoming shows how much can be lost when that sense of home is lost on an individual or on a generation. This was a very thoughtful book and well worth reading. L. Fleisig


Detective Story
Detective Story
by Imre Kertesz
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Politics can be relatively fair in the breathing spaces of history, 30 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Detective Story (Hardcover)
at its critical turning points there is no other rule possible than the old one, that the end justifies the means." from Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

"Detective Story", Hungarian Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertesz's novella is set in a prison in an unnamed South American country. An oppressive regime has just been overturned and the protagonist, former secret police detective Antonio Martens, is sitting in prison after a trial and conviction for the unlawful arrest, torture, and execution of Enrique Salinas and his father Federigo. The story plays out in the form of a prison memoir written by Martens that lays out the series of events that bought Martens and the Salinas family together in a deadly way. Martens' memoir also incorporates excerpts from a diary that had been kept by Enrique and `purchased' by Martens from the regime. Enrique's memoir serves as a counterpoint to Martens' memoir and the reader is able to get a pretty thorough look into the lives of Martens and Enrique. In concept and structure the book bears some resemblance to Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon". However, the book is more notable for its dissimilarity to Darkness at Noon than for its similarity.

In "Darkness at Noon" the prisoner Rubashov was a leader of the revolution and an active participant in the oppression and purges that eventually swept him up. In "Detective Story" Martens is no more than a bit player, a willing participant but not a leader. There is no irony in Martens' being called to account. There is nothing in his account that marks him as an intellectual, a leader, or anything other than a pawn. His participation is not that as a creator of an evil system but that of a cork that is swept along by the tide of repression. To that extent he comes closer to representing Hannah Arendt's vision of the banality of evil than that of Rubashov. As a result, Martens' memoir is noted more for what it does not say than what it actually says. Where Rubashov was insightful and painfully aware of the circumstances that brought him to his cell, Martens is content with a straightforward narrative of events. But although his narrative is almost devoid of emotion it is that very absence that makes the story so chilling. Kertesz does not hit your over the head with the horror of the story but, rather, hits you over the head with the absence of horror in the retelling.

Similarly, the diary excerpts of Enrique Salinas shows us another cork swept along by the tide, this time the tide of unrest and opposition to the regime. Enrique's diary is full of angst and emotion but it is the emotion of a naÔve youth, one who struggles for love and desires nothing more than the acceptance from his fellow college students who oppose the regime. He rails against those that do not accept him because he is from a rich family. Yet, he too has no more control over his fate than Martens has (or at least so he claims in the memoir). As the story plays itself out we see certain inevitability, the coincidences of two pawns crossing each others path in a way that neither could predict. To that extent I think Kertesz may owe more to Kafka than Koestler.

Kertesz' work has won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. His earlier works (earlier in the sense of publication in English) Fatelessness, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, and Liquidation are thoughtful and compelling. I've read those books and I think my enjoyment of Detective Story was enhanced because I had read them. However, this novella stands on its own and I recommend it heartily to readers whether or not they have read any other Kertesz. L. Fleisig


CARTE BLANCHE (De Luca Trilogy 1)
CARTE BLANCHE (De Luca Trilogy 1)
by Carlo Lucarelli
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Noir Italian style, 15 Dec. 2007
It is April, 1945. Mussolini's regime is in its death throes, clinging to power in the north of Italy. Chaos and anarchy is rapidly replacing repression and order as the predominant feature of Italian life. Yet there is still some semblance of law and order so when a prominent and quite unsavory member of Mussolini's Republican Party is murdered, the police are called to the scene to investigate the crime. The crime is deemed sufficiently important for the police to be granted `carte blanche', to take any means necessary to solve the murder. Commisario De Luca is assigned to lead the investigation and his investigation is the heart of Carlo Lucarelli's enjoyable short novel "Carte Blanche".

"Carte Blanche", the first volume in what is known as the De Luca Trilogy, is rich in storytelling and atmosphere. As drawn by Lucarelli, De Luca is an interesting character. He is neither a hero nor an antihero. He seems to want to be nothing more than to be a detective yet as the story opens he has just transferred back to the regular police force after a stint with the secret police. He'd left because he didn't like that sort of work and seems quite willing to point out that no, he'd never tortured anyone. He is savvy enough to know that an investigation like this is one with political undercurrents that could put him in danger but his compulsion to gather facts and put together the pieces of a puzzle outweighs his sense of caution. As a result we see a story where De Luca persists in pursuing an investigation even when all his instincts tell him he is walking through a minefield.

The strength of "Carte Blanche" lies primarily in Lucarelli's ability to create an atmosphere of Italy on the edge of chaos. I got a real sense of time and place while reading "Carte Blanche". Apart from De Luca, Lucarelli does not invest a lot of time in presenting us with a full-blown character analysis of the key parties to the crime and its aftermath. We also don't get a lot of the internal life of De Luca but De Luca's actions tend to speak for themselves and over the course of the book I got a nice feel for his personality without having had Lucarelli spell it out for me.

At the story's end we see the threads of the investigation pulled together while the threads holding together the reigns of government come fully undone. The resolution is not so much a conclusion as it is a signal that De Luca and Italy are in for some very interesting times in the months and years to come. "Carte Blanche" was a very satisfying first volume to the De Luca Trilogy. Volume Two The Damned Season (De Luca Trilogy 2) has been republished recently and the third and final volume (Via delle Oche) is, apparently, due out soon. I've read and enjoyed Volume Two and look forward to the conclusion.


The Snake Stone (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
The Snake Stone (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
by Jason Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Turkish impotentate returns!, 15 Dec. 2007
Jason Goodwin's second book "The Snake Stone" sees the return of the Turkish, crime-solving eunuch Yashim Togalu. I'm pleased to report that Goodwin's second book was as fun to read as his first, The Janissary Tree: A Novel".

As befits a mystery set in Istanbul the plot of "The Snake Stone" is moderately Byzantine but not so complex that the reader gets lost. Yashim is approached by a French archeologist (of the plundering sort) who tells Yashim a story about some priceless antiquities. Shortly thereafter the man is found dead and since Yashim is the last man to see him alive he finds himself faced with the prospect of being a suspect in the murder. Yashim has no choice but to try to unravel the mystery.

Two aspects of the book deserve special praise. As noted, the plot revolves around the possible discovery of priceless antiquities and this is a perfect device for a book set in a city such as Istanbul one of the world's historic cross-roads. The plot gives Goodwin a great opportunity to `explore' Istanbul's rich and diverse history both archeologically and socially. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and has written books on the history of the Ottoman Empire (Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire and his writing evidences that knowledge. Goodwin puts his knowledge to good use as he paints a very readable picture of Istanbul that captures (for me at least) the sights, sounds, and smells of Istanbul's streets and alleys while also conveying a sense of the political and social backdrop that drove the characters in the book. Anytime a writer gives you the sense that you can almost get a visceral feel for the sights and sounds of a city that writer has done a good job.

Second, Goodwin has done an excellent job in developing the character of Yashim. Yashim is now, in the second book, a fully formed and very endearing character. The minor recurring characters are equally engaging. Last, Yashim isn't the first detective to be a gourmet cook but I have to say the descriptions of Yashim's recipes were very enticing.

In my review of "The Janissary Tree" I mentioned that Goodwin's Yashim reminded me of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin novels (late 19th-century Russia such as The Winter Queen: A Novel (Erast Fandorin Mysteries)) and Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste stories such as Captain Alatriste (17th-century Spain). They all take the standard detective or mystery story and transport the reader to a different time and place. "The Snake Stone" confirms my original impression that Goodwin's books belong in that good company. "The Snake Stone" was an excellent story and anyone who likes a good detective story with a bit of an exotic twist should enjoy it.


My View from the Corner: A Life in Boxing
My View from the Corner: A Life in Boxing
by Angelo Dundee
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars and in this corner . . ., 15 Dec. 2007
Boxing trainer Angelo Dundee is on my list of people I would love to sit in a pub with so I could just listen to him talk and tallk and talk. He always seemed like one of those guys who can tell a story, and then another story, and then another story each one better than the last until the bell rings for last call and you get up off your bar stool and make your way home. And that is the feeling I got reading Dundee's "My View from the Corner: A Life in Boxing."

This is or has the feel of an `as told to' book with famed boxing writer (and great story teller in his own right) Bert Randolph Sugar. We have Angelo Dundee talking to Bert Sugar about boxing, the universe, and everything and the result is a book that makes you feel as is you really were sitting next to Dundee and Sugar in your local bar.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. In the first, we hear about Dundee's youth and introduction (through his older brother Chris) into the world of boxing and his early stable of fighters, most notably light heavyweight Willie Pastrano. The second and biggest part takes us through Dundee's years with Muhammad Ali, from his days as Cassius Clay, through his last days as a fighter. The third and final part covers Dundee's post-Ali years with Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman (during his second stint as the lovable, heavy, old timer).

Dundee's style is conversational and reads more like the transcript of his conversations with Sugar than it does a conventional piece of writing and I think this works perfectly. It isn't pretentious or smug; it is just Dundee being Dundee and that's pretty darn good.

Dundee's discussion of his relationship with his fighters, particularly Ali, is the heart of "My View from the Corner". I don't think any reader will be disappointed. Dundee was extraordinarily loyal to the fighters under his care and it shows. However, he doesn't shy away from discussing the flaws of those same fighters, including Pastrano, Ali, and Leonard. He is one of life's realists who knows that even our sporting heroes can have feet of clay so when he talks about some of those flaws it doesn't come across as bitter or angry. It simply comes across as a glimpse of a real human being.

Dundee, as you would expect, also gives a great account of his view of some of the great fights of the last 50 years including the two Ali-Liston fights, Ali-Frazier I and III, Ali-Foreman, and the two Duran-Leonard bouts amongst others. His story of Ali's knockdown by Henry Cooper in London in their first fight and the miracle of the slit glove that gave Ali two minutes of rest is compelling. For me, Dundee brings a view of his fighters' famous and not so famous bouts that I just never would have seen as just a fan even those I've watched time and time again.

I think any boxing fan, even readers with just a passing interest in the sport, will love this book.


Total Chaos (Marseilles Trilogy)
Total Chaos (Marseilles Trilogy)
by Jean-Claude Izzo
Edition: Paperback

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mediterranean city is really my culture, 15 Dec. 2007
Zinedine Zidane

Jean-Claude Izzo, like footballer Zidane, is a native of Marseilles. He was born in Marseille in 1945. Because he was the son of Spanish and Italian immigrants, Izzo was streamed into vocational school where he trained to be a lathe operator. After serving in the military he returned to Marseilles where he eventually turned to writing. His books have been remarkably successful in France and have been the subject of films and t.v. shows. He died, at age 54, in Marseilles.

"Total Chaos" is the first volume in the aptly-named "Marseilles Trilogy". The second, Chourmo, and third, Solea (Marseilles Trilogy)complete the triloy. There are two primary characters in Total Chaos. The first is Fabio Montale. Montale is a cop. The child of immigrants, Montale had a hard life growing up on Marseilles' mean streets. He ran with a "bad-crowd" a crowd that included the two friends. Manu and Ugu, with whom he shared a bond cemented by petty thefts and days spent in an around the harbor. There is also the girl, Lole, who they all loved in one way or the other. Montale escaped his childhood, joined the army and ended up a cop. The others never left escaped the life they were born into. That life results in Manu and Ugu both being killed. Montale spends the rest of the book seeking answers to the question of who killed Manu and Ugu and why. He is a cop and that is what he does. Montale knows there is no justice in the criminal justice system. He knows that life is nasty brutish and short. He knows that, even as intimate as his feelings for his city are that generations of immigrants to Marseilles from around the world (particularly now from the Middle East) are treated in much the same way as the children of Sicilian immigrants used to be treated. Montale (and Izzo of course) is both cynical and fatalistic but, nevertheless, he plods on.

The other primary character is Marseilles itself. I think it fair to say that Izzo loved his native place. Izzo's love for Marseilles imbues Total Chaos almost to the point of consuming it. However, Izzo's feeling for his city does not preclude his viewing his love through rose-colored glasses. Izzo's love for Marseilles is not the puppy love that a teenager has for his first real girl friend. No, Izzo's feelings are more those of someone who has lasted through a long marriage, who has hurt and been hurt. He sees the flaws and the pain but still can see the beauty and the passion.

I very much enjoyed "Total Chaos". This is noir, Marseilles style. While Izzo is a bit more expansive in terms of setting out in print the thoughts and feelings of his characters than a Georges Simenon for example, he does not get excessively florid. He is terser than most and that is to his credit. Izzo also provides some nice atmospherics. His references to both food (its preparation and its consumption) and to music (Montale's taste in jazz and music in general s both provocative and scene-setting) add some very nice touches to the writing. At the end of the day I think a reader's feeling about Total Chaos will depend on whether or not they like the idea of a city playing a central role in the story. It worked for me. Izzo does a remarkably good job of giving the reader a sense of place. You can almost feel the dark streets and smell the aromas of the cafes in the harbor as you read the book. In that sense Total Chaos reminded me of Naguib Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street (Everyman's Library) which left me feeling I'd actually been to the alleys in Cairo Mahouz wrote about with such passion. Comparing any writer to Mahfouz is higih praise.


Rumpole Misbehaves (Rumpole Novels)
Rumpole Misbehaves (Rumpole Novels)
by John Mortimer
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best way to behave is misbehave, 15 Dec. 2007
Mae West.

Any doubts anyone may have that Horace Rumpole doesn't share a bit of Mae West's mischievous world view will be dispelled after reading John's Mortimer's latest Rumpole romp, "Rumpole Misbehaves".

When we last saw the esteemed barrister, in Rumpole and the Reign of Terror (Rumpole Novels) he was doing verbal and legal battle against what he perceived as an invidious threat to historic civil liberties enjoyed in Britain by anti-terror legislation enacted by Parliament. He now takes on what he considers to be another invidious threat to civil liberties in the form of Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs). In Rumpole's eyes these laws, thought well-intended, enable the police and judiciary to criminalize conduct that is lawful but annoying.

In the case at hand the ASBO-worthy conduct is the constant kicking of a football by one Peter Timson, a child of the criminally-inclined clan that has provided Rumpole with a significant portion of his legal fees over the years, into a quiet upper-class street where the noise of children is perceived by one resident to be ASBO-worthy. Mortimer supplements this case with two additional legal matters. In one Rumpole finds himself defending a mild-mannered government employee in what appears to be an open and shut case of the murder of an illegal Russian immigrant working as a prostitute. In the other, Rumpole finds himself in the docket defending himself on an ASBO related charge brought against him by his colleagues in his chambers, that his smoking a cheroot, drinking cheap wine, and eating at his desk is anti-social behavior. As the story plays out Rumpole and the reader discover that these seemingly unrelated story lines may not be as unrelated as they first appear. To top things off, Hilda is continuing to write in her diary (a nice comedic device first used in Reign of Terror) and, of all things, threatening to read for the bar and become a lawyer.

The enjoyment of any of Mortimer's Rumpole series is not really found solely in the story line but in the wit and humor of Mortimer's writing. Rumpole feels like an old friend after all these years and yet every `harrumph' or muttered `she who must be obeyed' or barely-whispered cracks about insurable judges and stuffy colleagues in chambers still makes me laugh. And even though Rumpole acts just as we expect him to, and even as events play out just as we thought they might, Rumpole's ongoing willingness to fight the good fight on matters of principle large and small still leaves me rooting for one more favorable verdict. My own verdict on Rumpole Misbehaves: you keep on misbehaving Horace and I'll keep reading!


The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II
The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II
by Andrew Nagorski
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Moscow is a city that has much suffering ahead of it", 4 Oct. 2007
Anton Chekhov was certainly prophetic when he wrote that line, perhaps no more so than in connection with the titanic clash between the USSR's Red Army and Germany's Wehrmacht in the opening months of the war on the east front in 1941/1942. Andrew Nagorski's "The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II" is a compelling, well-written examination of an epic and bloody battle for survival.

Winston Churchill once wrote that "history is written by the victors". Nagorski takes the view here that sometimes history also is not written by the victors when that history doesn't serve the victor's purposes. At the outset of the "Greatest Battle" Nagorski points out that while much has been written of the battles of Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Kursk for example the battle that ended on the outskirts of Moscow has been subjected to far less scrutiny by historians. Nagorski suggests that a primary reason why Moscow has received less historical scrutiny is the fact that the victor, in this case Stalin's USSR, had little to gain by promoting a battle that would cast Stalin in a less favorable light than Stalingrad or Kursk. Documents locked in NKVD/KGB archives stayed locked well past Stalin's regime. However, since the fall of the USSR a great amount of previously uncovered records has led both Russian and western historians to take a new look at the battle for Moscow.

Nagorski has done an excellent job here in amassing a tremendous amount of research material and presenting it in a way that can be appreciated by readers with either a general or specific interest in the subject matter. One of the great strengths of the book is Nagorski's wide-ranging approach to the battle. He does not rely on the old chestnut that it was simply the winter that stopped Hitler's armies. Rather, Nagorski spends a good deal of time (productively) setting out a whole range of interconnected decisions that had an impact of the course of the battle. For example, we see how Stalin's horrific purge of the Red Army in 1937 and the army's disastrous campaign in the Russo-Finnish war helped lead Hitler to conclude that a war in the east would be nasty, brutal, short and victorious. At the same time Nagorski points out how a good showing by the USSR's soldiers against Japan in Mongolia in 1939, led by Georgy Zhukov, was most likely a factor in Japan's decision not to support the German invasion by attacking Russia in the east. This decision allowed the USSR to rush 250,000 Red Army soldiers from Siberia, equipped with winter clothing, to join in the defense of Moscow. As Nagorski points out their arrival was critical to successful defense of Moscow.

Nagorski also does a good job of weaving individual stories into his `big-picture' narrative. This adds a bit of real flavor to the story he is telling and also avoids the trap of writing solely from the actions of the large players on the stage. I would note, however, that "Greatest Battle" is not really what I would call a military history. You won't see an order of battle or a narrative detailing military strategy. This is not a criticism as much as it is a notice to readers that this is an excellent general overview of the first seven months of the war in the east and was not intended to be a military treatise in the style of the incomparable David Glantz.

Last, there are three books that would serve as an excellent complement to "Greatest Battle". Nagorski makes favorable mention of the writing of Vasily Grossman a wonderful journalist and writer. His book Life and Fate is a classic account of the great war as any I have read. Grossman's war reporting for the Red Army newspaper is mentioned by Nagorski often and can be found in - "A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945". Last, Nagorski did an excellent job in connecting the fateful decisions made by Hitler, Stalin, and others. Ian Kershaw's "Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941" really compelements what Nagorski has done so admirably in his Greatest Battle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2007 7:30 PM GMT


The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone Vs Disraeli
The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone Vs Disraeli
by Richard Aldous
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown, 4 Oct. 2007
The Lion beat the Unicorn all round the town.
Some gave them white bread, some gave them brown:
Some gave them plum-cake and drummed them out of town."

The original illustrations of the Lion and the Unicorn in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, created by noted illustrator Sir John Tenniel, bear a startling resemblance to Tenniel's illustrations of Benjamin Disraeli (the Unicorn) and William Gladstone (the Lion) published in Punch. The resemblance is no coincidence according to historian Richard Aldous and the image of the Lion and Unicorn fighting all around the town provides Aldous with a perfect title for his biography of the decades-long political rivalry between two giants of 19th-century British politics. "The Lion and the Unicorn" is an entertaining and very informative look at a political rivalry that changed the face of British politics.

Aldous doesn't set out to give a straight-line biography of both Gladstone and Disraeli. He notes that there is plenty of material on their individual lives and that, rather, he has set out to take a comprehensive look at their bitter relationship, a relationship that produced titanic clashes for over 40 years. The result is an almost breathless recitation of a roller coast ride in which a political rivalry turned decidedly personal is played out in Parliament and across Britain. Gladstone, who first entered Parliament in 1832, and Disraeli (arriving in 1837) were both Tories at the start of their career and (ostensibly) political allies. However, Gladstone soon left for the Liberals while Disraeli remained with the Tories. In the process Disraeli remade the Tories into the modern Conservative Party while Gladstone took a loose coalition of diverse groups including Whigs and free-trade Conservatives (Peelites) and turned it into something approaching a modern Liberal Party. Each chapter provides a snapshot on their 44-year rivalry over a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues. High points of the book include the general election of 1868, won by Gladstone, Disraeli's subsequent rout of Gladstone in the 1874 elections, and Gladstone's "Midlothian Campaign in 1880 which marked the rivals' last battle before Disraeli's death in 1881. Aldous correctly describes the 1874 campaign as perhaps the first one waged solely as a public battle between two rivals rather than one on specific issues. As such, when one looks at political campaigns today that seem based on popularity contests one can see where this sort of process had its birth.

Aldous does a great job comparing the very different personalities of the two rivals. For example, Disraeli, despite being thought of as a fop and dandy had, once he got married, a loving and very loving relationship with his wife Mary Anne, an older woman to whom he was singularly devoted. Gladstone on the other hand, and despite his deep Anglican church beliefs had what can only be described as an addiction to `women of the night', a practice that was known but rarely discussed at the time. Aldous paints a remarkably full, even-handed portrait of the public and private lives of both men.

One caveat: Aldous does not flesh out many of the national issues of the day around which this great rivalry played itself out. Rather, the reader is presumed to know or have a general knowledge of those issues; the great debates on the repeal of the Corn Laws, free-trade, "the Irish question", and the great reform battles of the 19th-century that eventually extended the right of suffrage from a few landowners to almost the entire adult (male) population of the United Kingdom. This is far from a fatal flaw, and I'm not even sure it should be considered a flaw since Aldous' focus is primarily on the ups and downs of their battles rather than an examination of the intricacies of the political issues of the day. In fact, sidebars into these issues probably would have bogged down the story Aldous set out to tell. However, the reader probably should know in advance that there may be times where he/she may feel an urge to look elsewhere for background information on some of these issues. I did that more than once even though it really isn't necessary in order to gain a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction in enjoying Aldous' account of the rivalry of these two men.


The Greatest Battle: The Battle for Moscow, 1941-2
The Greatest Battle: The Battle for Moscow, 1941-2
by Andrew Nagorski
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Moscow is a city that has much suffering ahead of it", 28 Sept. 2007
Anton Chekhov was certainly prophetic when he wrote that line, perhaps no more so than in connection with the titanic clash between the USSR's Red Army and Germany's Wehrmacht in the opening months of the war on the east front in 1941/1942. Andrew Nagorski's "The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II" is a compelling, well-written examination of an epic and bloody battle for survival.

Winston Churchill once wrote that "history is written by the victors". Nagorski takes the view here that sometimes history also is not written by the victors when that history doesn't serve the victor's purposes. At the outset of the "Greatest Battle" Nagorski points out that while much has been written of the battles of Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Kursk for example the battle that ended on the outskirts of Moscow has been subjected to far less scrutiny by historians. Nagorski suggests that a primary reason why Moscow has received less historical scrutiny is the fact that the victor, in this case Stalin's USSR, had little to gain by promoting a battle that would cast Stalin in a less favorable light than Stalingrad or Kursk. Documents locked in NKVD/KGB archives stayed locked well past Stalin's regime. However, since the fall of the USSR a great amount of previously uncovered records has led both Russian and western historians to take a new look at the battle for Moscow.

Nagorski has done an excellent job here in amassing a tremendous amount of research material and presenting it in a way that can be appreciated by readers with either a general or specific interest in the subject matter. One of the great strengths of the book is Nagorski's wide-ranging approach to the battle. He does not rely on the old chestnut that it was simply the winter that stopped Hitler's armies. Rather, Nagorski spends a good deal of time (productively) setting out a whole range of interconnected decisions that had an impact of the course of the battle. For example, we see how Stalin's horrific purge of the Red Army in 1937 and the army's disastrous campaign in the Russo-Finnish war helped lead Hitler to conclude that a war in the east would be nasty, brutal, short and victorious. At the same time Nagorski points out how a good showing by the USSR's soldiers against Japan in Mongolia in 1939, led by Georgy Zhukov, was most likely a factor in Japan's decision support the German invasion by attacking Russia in the east. This decision allowed the USSR to rush 250,000 Red Army soldiers from Siberia, equipped with winter clothing, to join in the defense of Moscow. As Nagorski points out their arrival was critical to successful defense of Moscow.

Nagorski also does a good job of weaving individual stories into his `big-picture' narrative. This adds a bit of real flavor to the story he is telling and also avoids the trap of writing solely from the actions of the large players on the stage. I would note, however, that "Greatest Battle" is not really what I would call a military history. You won't see an order of battle or a narrative detailing military strategy. This is not a criticism as much as it is a notice to readers that this is an excellent general overview of the first seven months of the war in the east and was not intended to be a military treatise in the style of the incomparable David Glantz.

Highly recommended. L. Fleisig


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